Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 154, 2 September 2020

The anti-Racist Protests in the US: Between
Rahul Arockiaraj

In the news
On 25 August, the third night of the protests centred around the police's shooting of Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, 17-year-old, Kyle Rittenhouse, who was a part of a 'self-appointed right-wing militia', armed himself with an AR-15 rifle, in the process killing two protestors. This incident has brought even more attention to both the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as its critiques. 

Crazy nights of protesting have been very familiar in many cities across America, but it is no question that Portland has dealt with the most attention from both the media, as well as the federal government. For almost a month, Homeland Security and federal troops have been deployed to help 'maintain unity.' Many have accused Trump of using 'secret police' to use excessive force on protestors. Since this deployment there have been many confrontations between BLM supporters and right-wing demonstrators, leading to violence. 

On 28 August, on the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s iconic "I Have a Dream" speech, protestors gathered in the national mall to both honours the past and fight for the future. The families of Jacob Blake, George Floyd and Trayvon Martin gave speeches to call upon police reform and justice, and past civil rights leaders and their families urged the protestors to continue their efforts, to effectively honour the legacy of Dr King, as well as John Lewis.

Issues at Large
First, it is clear that two out of the three incidents resulted due to confrontation between BLM supporters and right-wing advocates. While there has been evidence that suggests higher instances of social media debate between the two ideological groups, the last week has shown an increase in personal confrontation within protests. The debate behind Kyle Rittenhouse's actions has made it clear that there is an inherent division among the two political groups. There is a clear "us vs. them" mentality that both groups carry, and when two different groups of demonstration meet, there is bound to be an argument leading to violence. Portland and Kenosha are just violent examples of these 'debates.' In reality, this tension stretches all across the country. The relevance of BLM and the protests backing the movement are a source of conversation in every household. 

Second, it seems that this division among ideologies only serves to heighten the attention of the looming election. As headlines of BLM protesters being arrested in Portland increase, so does the media's attention on President Trump, Vice President Biden, and the 2020 election. As thousands of protestors fill the street nightly, it is clear that America is at a tipping point. The election serves as an answer that many are looking for. This isn't an election about two candidates but rather an election that focuses on two different sides of a movement. All of these protests and uproar over police brutality seems to be building. And it seems that the election results will either be a catalyst for more uproar and outrage or might be considered a sign of victory for an increasingly globally relevant movement. 

Third, the anniversary of Dr King's iconic speech serves as an important reminder for the BLM movement, that there is more work to be done. Dr King's powerful words still inspire yet another generation in their efforts for social justice. However, some have questioned whether his dreams have come true. While one can argue that all citizens are given equal birth rights, there are still clear discrepancies that create racial barriers. One such example is the continued instances of police brutality. It is clear that the African American community is being disproportionally affected by this issue, and it has been the main focus of the BLM movement. However, Dr King's speech reveals that there are problems beyond this institutional issue that need to be resolved. These problems don't need to be solved in Congress or the justice system but can happen in any home in America. The reason that the "I Have a Dream" speech is so iconic is because of its personal nature. These past few months, BLM transformed into a world-wide movement centred around George Floyd. However, since then, the movement has been treated as a purely political statement, rather than a cultural movement. Dr King's speech should remind us that BLM isn't just a political movement, but rather a personal statement claiming that "Black Lives Matter." This personal integrity is incredibly crucial to make a cultural change. 

In perspective
These three different events are all incredibly important on their own individual right. However, it seems that there is a common theme connecting all these instances. In every single protest, counter-protest, and news story, people want answers. Whether it be answers to police brutality or in a conservative light, answers to 'unruly protests,' all of these issues have come down to, the outcome of the upcoming election. Both democrats and republicans have placed a tremendous amount of weight to the upcoming election, some saying that it is the election where 'we find the true nature of America.' Some have even gone far enough to say that if Trump is re-elected that it would be a sign of failure for the BLM movement. 
While it is no question that this is an important election, especially considering the potential number of supreme court justices being appointed, the validity of the BLM movement should not be attached so closely with the outcome of the election. If Biden loses, this should not mean that the BLM movement was a failure. The amount of local governments that have started to put policies brought up by BLM into action, has seen an unprecedented rise. More mayors and county officials all across the country are supporting police justice reform, and it is no doubt that BLM was directly responsible for this. 

Furthermore, while the media will continue to magnify the attention drawn towards the 2020 election, it is important to note that there are many working functions of the government that aren't the bright spotlight hogged by the oval office. The Black Lives Matter movement is far more important than the outcome of a singular election. The movement stakes its value in individual homes and conversation rather than the electoral college and presidential speeches. It is important to note that Dr King had a dream, not about politics and elections, but rather people living with freedom in the comfort of their homes. A movement about humanity and freedom, not elections and party politics. 

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